Toronto FC officially signs veteran Italian defender Domenico Criscito

Toronto FC filled another gap on Wednesday, signing veteran Italian defender Domenico (Mimmo) Criscito.

The 35-year-old former captain of Genoa, who no longer had a contract after last season, was signed until 2023 with targeted allocation money. That allows MLS teams to recruit elite players and earn some salary cap without granting designated player status.

Criscito joins fellow Italian Lorenzo Insigne, a former Napoli captain, in Toronto. And like Insignia, it took months for Criscito to finally land in Toronto.

“Mimmo is a versatile defender, a very good passer and a smart player,” Toronto head coach and sporting director Bob Bradley said in a statement. “He can play as a left back or a central defender and should be an excellent role model for our young players.”

Also Wednesday, Toronto acquired $50,000 US in general allotment money from Columbus in exchange for its homegrown priority rights to Jacen Russell-Rowe. The 19-year-old attacker, a product of the Toronto FC Academy, leads the MLS Next Pro League with 11 goals in 11 appearances for Columbus’ reserve team Crew 2.

Like Insignia, Criscito hails from Naples. But Genoa became his home – he met his wife and raised a family there. Their children speak Italian, Russian and English.

TFC fell short as a fullback this season following the departure of Brazil’s Auro and Canadian Richie Laryea and the retirement of Justin Morrow.

Bradley used young Canadians Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, Luca Petrasso, Kosi Thompson and Jacob Shaffelburg as a full-back or full-back. Petrasso, 22, and Thompson, 19, have been the favorite combination of late.

All four have shown promise in the demanding fullback/fullback role, especially on the offensive end. But defensively there have been growing pains.

Toronto (5-8-3) is in 27th place in the league with 28 teams in terms of goals conceded and conceded 1.88 goals per game. Toronto’s fullbacks racing to their own goal in a bid to get back into position has been a common sight this season.

TFC hopes Criscito, a six-foot 165-pounder, will help.

“Mimmo is a player who will add valuable veterans to our team,” said Bill Manning, Toronto’s president. “He has played some important games for his club and country in his career, has captained Genoa and we are delighted to have him join our club.”

Criscito showed his determination in May when he shot home a stoppage time penalty to give Genoa a 2-1 win over Juventus. However, he was unable to save Genoa, a side that has gone through a run of managers in recent years, from relegation for the first time in 15 years.

Criscito is expected to act as fullback for Toronto, which has used Mexican Carlos Salcedo, French-born DR Congo international Chris Mavinga, American Shane O’Neill and Canadian Lukas MacNaughton as centre-backs.

Criscito has represented Italy at youth and senior levels, including the 2008 Summer Olympics. He made his senior debut in 2009 and made 26 appearances through 2018. He was a member of the 2010 Italian World Cup team.

Criscito began his professional career with Genoa, making his Serie B debut in 2003 at the age of 16. He joined Juventus in 2004, where he made nine appearances before returning to Genoa on loan. He moved to Russia in 2011 to play for Zenit Saint Petersburg and returned to Genoa in 2018.

Combined 498 appearances in the last 15 years

Criscito has played 498 games together for Genoa and Zenit in the past 15 years, scoring 50 goals in Serie A, the Russian Premier League, the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League.

In seven seasons with Zenit, Criscito won the Russian Premier League (2011-12 and 2014-15), the Russian Cup (2015-16) and the Russian Super Cup (2015-16).

The Italian wore No. 4 with Zenit and Genoa, in his most recent stint. That song belongs to captain Michael Bradley in Toronto.

Born in Brampton, Ontario, Russell-Rowe has signed with Columbus’ first team until 2024 with options for 2025 and 2026. He spent a year at the University of Maryland after leaving Toronto.

Toronto will receive additional allocation money if Russell-Rowe meets certain performance-related incentives and will also maintain a resale percentage in the event of a future transfer to a team outside of MLS.

Columbus has ties to Toronto with President and GM Tim Bezbatchenko, Vice President (Administration and Operations) Jaime McMillan and Assistant GM and Crew 2 GM Corey Wray who have all worked for TFC.

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